Sensor Networks in the Home Can Detect Alzheimer’s

Tecnalia’s smart home tracks changes in activity that could suggest neurodegenerative diseases among those aging in place.

Is a senior spending an unusual amount of time on the couch watching TV? Sensor networks could indicate the onset of Alzheimer's.
Julie Jacobson · April 16, 2014

For those seniors aging in place, early stages of Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative disease can go unnoticed by the closest of relatives or caretakers.

But a smart home with a sensor network can detect changes in activity – restlessness, skipped meals and the like – that could herald the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Tecnalia, a technology and business development firm in Spain, has modeled such a home, with a plethora of sensors that capture everyday activity. Benchmarks are set early on, while a resident is healthy, so they can be used to note changes in activity over time.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, early detection is important so that patients have time to get affairs in order before losing their faculties.

Following three years of research, a prototype of the detection system has been constructed at the Tecnalia offices in Zamudio (Bizkaia, Basque Country). The organization imagines the system being installed in assisted living facilities and senior housing.

From the press release:

Through a broad network of sensors distributed throughout the home, this system is capable of detecting the presence of the user in different rooms, the opening and closing of doors, windows, drawers, the switching on and off of lights, the use of household appliances, the television, time spent in bed, on the sofa, the use of taps, etc. From the more technological point of view, one feature in the system is the use of sound sensors to pick up, for example, the ringing of the phone or the doorbell.

The system records, in real time, the information from the sensors and identifies the activity that the person is doing, like preparing a meal, watching the TV while sitting on the sofa or having a shower. This monitoring allows the person’s habits or routines to be learnt in order to subsequently be able to spot any changes in them which could point to memory problems or disorders, disorientation in time and space, giving up activity, or becoming isolated; in many cases these may be symptoms of a neurodegenerative disease, and that way a relative or carer could be alerted about them. For example, this monitoring can detect changes in sleep patterns, in eating habits like stopping eating hot meals, inactivity when more time is spent sitting or watching TV, wandering around the house, etc.

The system also enables people to receive assistance in carrying out everyday activities, for example, by means of alarms or domestic robots. These devices could remind them that it is time for them to take their medication or to do some activity.

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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